I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, a copy of which I received a short time ago. I wish you, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister and the House a very happy new year. I hope that the Prime Minister will not misinterpret that greeting in any way whatever and will take it in the spirit in which it is meant—[Interruption.] Thank you.
Last month, I travelled to Brussels to meet European leaders, including Prime Ministers, to discuss the issues our Prime Minister has raised today. I learnt a lot at that meeting. I learnt that the Prime Minister has botched his negotiations with European leaders. I also learnt that many of our European colleagues have an intuitive understanding of British politics—they know that the Prime Minister has asked for help so that he can win a referendum he never wanted to hold.
Does the Prime Minister now accept that his attempts to bludgeon leaders into accepting his flawed reforms have failed and that he has come back with very little? Can he really be surprised at his failure, when he has not worked with his negotiating partners in Europe, and failed even to turn up when asked for help on the European refugee crisis? To deliver change, you need patient, effective diplomacy and you need to make friends.[Interruption.] Indeed we all value our friends. But the Prime Minister is not interested in that; he is more interested in his own party. He is playing politics, rather than putting forward the interests of the people of this country.
Can the Prime Minister now explain whether his Government will have a view on the choice facing the people of this country in the referendum, and how will that be reached and expressed? What has he had to say to Lord Heseltine, who said Britain would become “a laughing stock across the world” if the Prime Minister made the announcement he has today? Leaders across Europe can see that the Prime Minister’s demands are a bluff, a fig leaf for Conservative party politics. Does he accept that his bluff has now been called?
The Prime Minister said that he wanted to secure more for national parliaments in the EU. It is now clear that he has achieved nothing of any substance on that point. Does he also accept, as experts have warned, that his proposals for reforming migrant benefits are not only likely to be ineffective in reducing any inward migration, but are discriminatory and unfair and likely to be legally challenged? Can he confirm that he has now abandoned those plans altogether? Can he also confirm once and for all that he has dropped his utterly disgraceful plans to weaken what is already weak workers’ protection in this country when compared with the workers’ protection offered in other European countries?
Essentially, the Prime Minister’s proposals are a distraction. The real issue is about delivering a better, more cohesive, more democratic and progressive Europe that promotes security and protection for workers, and delivers investment and a productive economy to support jobs and sustainable growth. That is why in the upcoming referendum we will fight to ensure those things are delivered in the European Union as part of a progressive reform agenda.
I would like to ask the Prime Minister something more about the refugee crisis, and what he is doing to help in this growing humanitarian crisis. First, I want to put on record my thanks to the Royal Navy and all other service personnel working in the Mediterranean trying to save lives. They have done a great job and they have saved a very large number of people who were desperate to cross the Mediterranean and find a place of safety. What funding is Britain offering to assist in the collective effort to deal with the refugee crisis across Europe? There is a very serious crisis in many countries on the borders of Europe, and we also face the present situation in Calais.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that Britain is fully part of, and signed up to, the negotiated political peace process to try to bring about a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war, and is he in a position to update us on anything to do with that?
Does the Prime Minister agree that we now need a pan-European humanitarian relief programme, co- ordinated by the United Nations, to assess the status of all refugees and provide proper refugee support? The Government are simply not going far enough to help those in need. Will the Prime Minister commit himself to accepting at least 20,000 refugees over the next two years, rather than the next five? Will he support calls for Britain to take in 3,000 vulnerable and unaccompanied children who are currently in a quite desperate situation?
Does the Prime Minister not recognise that by isolating Britain from Europe, he is making it more difficult for us to work as partners on all these issues, and that once again he is putting the politics of his own party above the national interest? Will he join me in seeking a more progressive union across Europe which will deliver welfare and security to our workers and our economy, rather than the agenda that he has put before us today?